Past Life Makes Noise With 'The Loudest Sound' (EP stream + interview)
Philadelphia quartet Past Life shakes up preconceptions about melodic rock with hard edge on their new EP, The Loudest Sound.
The Loudest Sound is the new release from Philadelphia's Past Life. The EP, which arrives on Friday, July 13, solidifies the quartet's reputation for hard-edged music that retains a pleasing melodic center. The three tracks heard on the collection ("Apollo", "North Brother", and "Are You Listening?") are accessible without being empty, intricate without being off-putting.
Percussionist/vocalist Dash Williams spoke with PopMatters about the band's history and future.
What do you see as the biggest changes for the band since 2017's Triple Nothing?
Probably just more exposure. We've gone on five or so tours since Triple Nothing came out, so we've gained a bit of an audience and reputation for being this energetic pop-rock band. It's been super cool to travel all the way out to Boston or Chicago and see people singing our songs and moving at all the right moments. We've started bringing a GoPro with us to film our sets and the crowd every night, and it's just super cool to see the crowds evolve.
When did the material from the new EP start coming together?
Two of the songs, "Apollo" and "North Brother", were some of the first songs we ever worked on together a couple of years ago. We put them on the recording back burner for a while because the timing wasn't right, but we're glad that they're getting their proper debuts now. The second track, "Are You Listening?", is the newest song and that came together sometime after our tour with Molly Drag last year.
You issued "Apollo" as a single back in May. What do you remember about the origins and evolution of that song?
I remember having a couple of riffs and bringing them to Justin Sterchele (drums) and Branden Bauer (guitars) and us just spending an entire afternoon hashing out melodies and structures. I remember playing the chorus on guitar and both Branden and me trying to come up with the melody at the same time. We found that both of our melodies flowed into one another so we just combined them. We thought it'd be super cool if the choruses kept building and we just screamed our faces off at the end of the song. It was a couple of weeks later that the lyrics all started to come together and the hook in the chorus solidified everything. At one point we had this cool instrumental outro that had some cool syncopation between Justin and me, but unfortunately, that didn't make it to the recording.
Most of this was written before Anthony Massucci joined the band. We desperately needed a bass player, and Branden kept insisting that his roommate Anthony killed it at bass, so we decided to give him a shot. It wasn't until months later we found out that Anthony had been faking it the entire time and practically learned how to play the bass while working on this song.
How did that compare with how "North Brother" came into being?
There's an acoustic version of this song floating around somewhere. I wrote that a couple of years ago for my previous band the Reflexes, but we disbanded before we ever got the chance to work on it. For the most part, the song came together pretty easily and everything just sort of worked. Originally the first verse and the second verse were pretty much musically identical, until one day Branden came to practice talking about a dream he had where the second verse was filled with these heavy guitar stops. We gave it a try and instantly fell in love with the idea and kept it in the song. Shortly after, Anthony came up with the cool falsetto hook at the end that really sort of put a bow on the entire thing.
The musical presentation is one thing, but you've also given listeners/viewers cool cover art to gaze at. It seems like the art of the well-designed sleeve is at an all-time ebb. How did you go about selecting this piece for the sleeve?
I love the cover art so much. We've been working with Drexel University's Mad Dragon Records since practically the inception of this EP and they had suggested we work with artist Eve Van Scott. I suggested maybe doing some sort of collage-based piece and she just ran with it from there. I still don't know where the birds came from but I love the movement in this piece and how the line workflows between the focal points, tying everything together. It just feels like there is an entire story behind each character in this weird, alternate, bird person dominated universe.
When the band started were there a lot of conversations about direction, presentation?
Yes. From the get-go we wanted this project to be different from a lot acts currently out there. We didn't want to be another band that doesn't move on stage and sings songs about ex-girlfriends. We wanted to write energetic pop songs filled with emotion that got people moving. We wanted to create a show that stood out from the rest, with lots of energy and balloons and glow sticks and crowd interaction. We wanted to be different.
How closely did what you thought the music sound like ultimately match what came out?
This is now the second time we've worked with Gary Cioni at the Barbershop Studios and both times we've just been blown away with what he's produced. His work ethic is unbelievable, and he's a master at picking through what works and doesn't work in a recording. Overall, I think these recordings feel a lot more full than our interpretations of the songs prior to recording them, and we've found a way to translate a lot of the changes we made from the studio into our live performances. Recording sessions are always super valuable because they give you this sort of third party, brutally honest representation of what your songs sound like and allow you to make changes based on that perspective.
Philadelphia has been a consistent presence in the rock world, but it never seems to get the kind of acclaim that Los Angeles or New York do for their bands.
Philadelphia is weird. It's an awesome city to start playing music in because there are basement venues and DIY spots all over. Though, the downside to that is that the music scene is practically always oversaturated. On any given Friday or Saturday night, there are probably three or more awesome shows happening, splitting up fans and friends, and making it difficult for any musician or band to really "rise above" and stand out. Not saying that LA or NY aren't oversaturated as well, we've played to both full and empty rooms in Brooklyn, but I think that it takes a little extra effort and professionalism to book venues in those cities, creating that sort of acclaim that Philly doesn't have.
What's been the highlight of being in Past Life so far?
We recently just played two sold-out shows opening up for Hobo Johnson and Foster the People, and they were both unbelievably cool. We got some of the nicest compliments we've ever received after those nights, and it's just been super inspiring and encouraging. Personally, I love connecting with audiences with my lyrics and our songs; it makes me feel like I'm doing something right, you know? Developing that connection has been the biggest highlight for me so far.
What do you see happening for the band from this point forward?
We're about to embark on a three-week tour next week with Montreal based Molly Drag, so that'll be a lot of fun. When we come home, we're going to spend some more time working on our first album. We've got a couple of new songs already in the works now that we hope to debut on this upcoming tour.
7/23 - Montreal, QC
7/24 - Ottawa, ON
7/25 - Toronto, ON
7/26 - Buffalo, NY
7/27 - Pittsburgh, PA
7/28 - Washington, DC
7/29 - Richmond, VA
7/30 - Charlotte, NC
7/31 - Atlanta, GA
8/01 - Nashville, TN
8/02 - Lexington, KY
8/03 - Chicago, IL
8/04 - Akron, OH
8/05 - Rochester, NY
8/06 - Albany, NY
8/07 - West Haven, CT
8/08 - Manchester, NH
8/09 - Portland, ME
8/10 - Brooklyn, NY
8/11 - Philadelphia, PA
8/12 - Boston, MA